Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb 12, 2015 / 17:15 pm
The Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the US issued a letter on Wednesday asking their faithful to pray and fast for peace, a day before a tentative ceasefire in Ukraine was agreed on which would end 10 months of fighting.
The Feb. 11 letter urged prayers for "the president and elected officials of Ukraine, for the conversion of the aggressors, for the Ukrainian army, for those who protect citizens, for the souls of the deceased, and for unity and independence of Ukraine."
Alongside their Major Archbishop, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the US bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church have asked their faithful to set aside time each day for "quiet meditation and prayer" for these intentions.
The bishops' appeal fell one day before Feb. 12, when officials from Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia helped to negotiate an indefinite ceasefire in Ukraine, which is set to begin at midnight on Feb. 15.
All sides have agreed to pull back heavy weapons in the deal, and there is expected to be a de-militarized zone between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces, who will both pull back to new positions.
All prisoners are to be released, and foreign weapons and troops are to be withdrawn. Constitutional reform is to enable decentralization in the eastern portions of Ukraine by 2016.
Fr. Wasyl Kharkuk, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C., told CNA Feb. 12 the ceasefire is "a good thing," while adding, "I have doubts … but still, this is a good deal. Better this deal, than nothing."
"We will see how things will work, and we hope and pray that God will help and will bless and things will go a different way than it is now."
Last February, Ukraine's former president was ousted following months of violent protest, and a new government appointed. In March, Ukraine's eastern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia and pro-Russian separatist rebels, supported by Russia, have since taken control of eastern portions of Ukraine around Donetsk and Luhansk.
The death toll in Ukraine now exceeds 5,400 people, plus more than 12,900 others who have been wounded since fighting broke out in April. More than 970,000 have been internally displaced.
Sunday's ceasefire is the second attempt to end fighting in the Ukraine, with a previous agreement in September falling through due to continued fighting.
The Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the U.S. urged their faithful to "fast by pausing from our daily activities for an extended amount of time to reflect and pray for the people of Ukraine (and to) meditate on the horrific sufferings of the people of Ukraine, as you pray to God for peace and unity."
Prayers to the Mother of God were also encouraged, as well as a daily pause "to identify with the suffering as you pray for peace. Sacrifice valued time and thought in prayer for our brothers and sisters who suffer!"
Pope Francis also prayed for an end to the Ukrainian conflict following his General Audience address last week, asking that the violence come to an end. He encouraged all Christians to pray together for an end to the fighting and bloodshed, saying that "prayer is our protest before God in times of war."